March 24, 2023

Let’s Make High Park Car Free

On Monday, April 3, the City of Toronto will host a public consultation at Lithuanian House (1573 Bloor Street West) from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM to determine the preferred solution for the High Park Movement Strategy. For those who are not aware of this strategy, four options were proposed last summer which were the following:

  1. Make High Park car-free.
  2. Continue with the car-free weekends or other time-based vehicle restrictions
  3. Permanently close off some roads of High Park to motor vehicles.
  4. Revert to the pre-COVID unrestricted motor vehicle access.
Can't wait for the cherry blossoms to return! 😊

Survey Feedback

Over 10,000 people completed last summer’s survey which saw almost half (of those who provided postal codes) come from near High Park such as the M6P, M6R, and M6S postal codes.

The top three priorities for improvement were reducing motor vehicle traffic (58% flagged as a high priority), mitigating risk in conflict zones (56%), and reducing the number of roads (55%). The next three pictures were taken from the Summer 2022 Public Engagement Report.

Among the four options, the most popular was the car-free option which 57% of respondents supported (including 44% strongly supported) compared to 36% opposed (including 24% strongly opposed). The pre-COVID unrestricted motor vehicle access option was the least popular with only 25% in favour (including 17% strongly supported) and 68% opposed (including 49% strongly opposed). Given this, it’s clear reverting to the pre-COVID status quo is not an option.

Those who prioritized improving safety and/or the natural environment of High Parak were most strongly in favour of the car-free option, while those who prioritized improved accessibility were slightly more in favour. People with disabilities and families with young children were more supportive of the car-free option, while seniors were the least supportive; instead preferring time-based or partial road closures.

Emerging Preferred Solution

Despite the perceived popularity of making High Park car free, a recent Toronto Star article reported that the emerging preferred solution would involve maintaining motor vehicle access on some roads in High Park per the image below. These include access to the High Park Zoo parking lot, Centre Road westbound (to the Grenadier Café), and northbound Colborne Lodge Road to Bloor Street. An eastbound contraflow bike lane would be added to Centre Road.

Even if the car-free scenario were to become successful, certain motor vehicles would require access such as deliveries to the Grenadier Café, city vehicles to maintain the Zoo and other park amenities, and possible use of Wheel Trans.

Car Free High Park Coalition

To help build support for a car-free High Park, Faraz Gholizadeh – spokesperson for Safe Parkside – helped start the Car Free High Park Coalition and launched a petition which exceeded 1000 signatures . Nineteen groups signed onto a letter in support of a car-free High Park while the campaign has received coverage in Streets of Toronto and Momentum Magazine. Instagram and Twitter accounts were created to help engage users, though they have yet to set up a Facebook page at the time of publication.

Accessibility Question

While promoting the car-free High Park petition, there has been one complaint that has come up more often than all others; that being accessibility. This is despite the survey finding those with disabilities being more supportive of the car-free option?! Having advocated for safe streets for the past decade, I refuse to accept the idea that accessibility and car-free public spaces are mutually exclusive. There are ways people with disabilities can be accommodated such as WheelTrans, assisted mobility devices, extra seating, audible and tactile aids for the blind, and other actions. The High Park subway station is expected to get elevators by next year which will also help on this front. Not to mention, the presence of motor vehicles forms an accessibility barrier unto itself.

Given the pervasive use of the accessibility argument by opponents, there is a real need for advocates to effectively communicate why car-free spaces can work just as well for those with disabilities if not better. Fortunately, the local councillor – Gord Perks – also rejects the idea that accessibility can’t be accommodated in a car-free High Park.

To get an idea of what an accessible car-free space looks like, here is a picture Janet Joy Wilson – who currently lives in New York City and used to volunteer with Community Bikeways – took while in Prospect Park recently with someone using a mobility aid.

Next Steps

If New York City can make Central Park and Prospect Park car-free – not to mention countless other examples around the world – there is NO EXCUSE why Toronto can’t do the same for High Park. Those who support a car-free High Park are strongly encouraged to attend the open house on Monday, April 3, as well as sign and share the petition and contact their city councillor.

Last, but not least, here are a few more cycling public consultations to keep an eye on.

  • Sheppard Avenue East – A Phase 2 Consultation focused on the Bayview to Leslie stretch will be held on Tuesday, March 28 (5:30 to 8:00 PM) at Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
  • Bartlett-Havelock-Gladstone – A Phase 2 Consultation focused on the College to Peel stretch will be held on Monday, April 3 (5:30 to 7:30 PM) at Alexander Muir Public School
  • Bloor West Complete Street – Public consultations will be held on Wednesday, April 12 and Thursday, April 13. A separate blog post will be prepared when the materials are publicly available. 
UPDATE 2023/04/04: Jun N provided a great recap of the April 3 open house including the details of the preferred option.

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